Thank you very much [U.S. Co-Commander of Operation Northern Watch Brigadier] General [Edward "Buster"] Ellis; [Turkish Co-Commander Brigadier] General [Veysi] Agar; [39th Wing Commander] Colonel [Rudy] Wright; [Commander of British troops] Group Captain Barstow; troops, family members of the 39th Wing and the Combined Task Force, Americans, Turks, British—all services, guard and reserve—long timers and short timers. We are here today to express our personal thanks and appreciation to each of you for your dedication and the outstanding job you do for our countries.
General Ellis, I thank you very much for that nice introduction. It kind of makes me sound like I can’t hold down a job.
There is no question but that your mission is of great importance. You help to keep the peace and to maintain stability in this critical region of the world—and it is a difficult region of the world, as we see in the press every single day.
You’re helping to contain Iraq. And you’re preventing them from attacking their neighbors and menacing the Kurds in Northern Iraq and threatening vital security interests. For all the difficulties that you face, you do it remarkably well, and I congratulate you for it. You must know yours is truly noble work. You wake up each morning and you voluntarily offer to put your lives at risk to contain aggression so the people of this troubled region, as well as your fellow citizens back home, can go about their days in peace and freedom. Your resolve helps to keep that still dangerous regime in check. The American people appreciate the courage and dedication you bring to this mission and they thank you. We also thank your families and loved ones for the fine support they give you and your important work and, through you, the service they provide to our country.
I must say that, having grown up in a Navy family, I know a little bit about it, as a child. Having been in the Navy, I know little bit about it, as a parent. And it’s not always easy. We’re certainly proud of the mission you perform and how you perform it, as is President Bush.
I understand that last year some 9,000 people rotated through something like 1,500 different positions. They tell me that is a 700% turnover rate—that is amazing. It’s a testimony to excellent leadership, but it’s also a testimony to teamwork and each of you is a part of that.
How many people here are in the Navy? Anyone? Look at that! Well, I’m going to tell you a story about the Navy. I was on a battleship for a brief period and it ran aground, in New York harbor. It pulled mooring and the aft end settled on the New Jersey shore. And of course it’s not a proud moment. It’s a little embarrassing—it’s on the front page of The New York Times, and everyone is wondering what in the world went on.
Well, in the morning they sent out about 14 tugboats and they snubbed their noses up against the battleship. Then they started pushing one at a time here, and one at a time there, and nothing happened. The battleship would not move. And finally someone came up on deck and they got all the tugs to back off and they all snubbed up tight right against the battleship and they all pushed and the battleship went off the New Jersey shore. And I used to tell that story about teamwork.
Once I was with a man named Admiral Zumwalt, who was Chief of Naval Operations a number of years ago. And he said, "You know, Don? I was the navigator on that battleship when it ran aground." And I said, "How in the world did you ever get to be an Admiral?" His answer was that he had protested mooring. And I told the story, and I said, "Is it about right?"—because I use that story every once and awhile. And he said, "It’s right up to a point." He said, "But Don what you didn’t know is the tide came up—so it takes an awful lot of teamwork and it also takes a little help from the Lord."
You know better than I that we need to stay vigilant. Your work here reminds us that so long as regimes like the Iraqi regime exist, the threats to freedom will not cease. If we are to extend peace into this new century, we have to stand ready to protect our friends and our allies around the world.
We are grateful to our partners in this vital enterprise, our British friends who we’ve worked with so closely in so many endeavors over so many decades. And those who fly alongside us here, our Turkish friends, who take risks and stand with us in this common effort in a very dangerous part of the world with very difficult neighbors.
I might mention it is some 50 years now since the United States and Turkish forces were engaged in Korea together, and across this country there are any number of veterans of the Korean War here in Turkey.
I’m told that Incirlik in Turkish means the place where figs grow. We might also call it the place where friendship grows, because certainly without friendship there could not be the kind of teamwork and close relationships that have developed. Our Turkish friends have made their home our home. General Agar, to you, and to all our Turkish friends here who have made us feel so welcome, we thank you very much. We are grateful to Turkey as a loyal ally in NATO – a country that is making a fine contribution in Central Asia and the Caucases, that is working diligently with all parties in the Middle East to bring peace there and, of course, works closely every day with the United States in the Atlantic Alliance. We are certainly grateful to them for the job they do here.
If you think about it, back home and across Europe and Northeast Asia, they are essentially living in a peaceful and reasonably stable world. That is not possible without peace and stability. That is what underpins economic opportunity and prosperity for all of us across the world. And the foundations, the real underpinning of peace and stability, are the men and women in the armed forces.
You should know that there can be no world prosperity or economic opportunity without peace and stability, and you are central to that enormously important task. We thank you, we wish you well. And, through us, know that your friends in the United States wish you well. Thank you very much.